Breaking free

‘I just felt there was a need to refocus and re-energise’ — Abhishek Bachchan returns after a two-year gap with Friday film Manmarziyaan

By Karishma Upadhyay
  • Published 10.09.18

Manmarziyaan marks Abhishek Bachchan’s return to the big screen after a two-year gap. Directed by Anurag Kashyap, the love triangle also stars Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. t2 recently sat down with Abhishek in the office of Eros International, the September 14 film’s co-producer, in Mumbai to talk about his sabbatical, being directed by Anurag and Gulab Jamun where he’ll team up with wife Aishwarya once again. 

Welcome back to the movies! Did you miss it?

Yes and no. Yes, because this is what I do, this is what I love doing, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. No, because I think it was an important break to have taken.

You have spoken about how this was a time of re-evaluation and reassessment. Were there lessons learnt?

Absolutely. Many, many lessons learnt. I just felt there was a need to refocus, or be more focused and 
re-energise — that was the most important. It was also important to figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to go about doing it. I’ve always loved the films that I’ve done, so it had nothing to do with the work I was doing; it’s how I was doing the work that needed to change. 

In Bollywood, it becomes such a big deal when actors decide to take a break from work because the belief is that they shouldn’t… 

I think everybody’s on their own journey as well; everyone has to do what they have to do. What works for me might not work for someone else, and you have to respect that. But I understand people’s perceptions of why one shouldn’t take a break in the film industry, because ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I get why they would say that, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you have to do if you’re convinced, which I was.

Your father (Amitabh Bachchan) had famously taken a five-year break, and when he returned he said he wished that he hadn’t. Did he talk to you about this decision?

I know what he felt, because I’m his son and I’ve lived through that phase with him. But I was also very sure of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. There was definitely a thought-out plan that I put into place. I knew what his feelings were, but this was about me and he respected that.

Were there worries at home?

No. Once I’d taken the decision to do it, I told everyone at home and they were fine; they were supportive and they appreciated it.  It wasn’t like I wasn’t going to be working. For the past two years, I’ve been in office every day doing my other work. Those businesses were going on simultaneously.

Is there a method to the introspection? Are you one of those who needs to get away to get a perspective?

(Laughs) Like go to the hills to think… no, no! All this thinking was going on while I was working, while I was making my films. The day I decided to stop doing films, that was the first step of the plan. It wasn’t like I stopped and went away to the mountains to think. I had already decided by then.

What was it about Manmarziyaan that made it the perfect film to come back with?

For the last year or so, I’d got back to wanting to make films again and hearing a lot of scripts, trying to get them made, but it is very challenging; it’s not like I want to make a film and that’s it. From the financing to the casting, all of that was going on. In the middle of all that, one day Aanand (L. Rai, the film’s co-producer) called me and said he had a script and asked if I’d be open to hearing it, and I said yes. He sent Kanika Dhillon to me, who’s the writer of the film, and I sat through a narration. After several discussions, Aanand said he wanted Anurag (Kashyap) to direct this and that’s when all the pieces fell into place, and it felt like the right film to do. This was in January and in February we were on set.

Anurag and you have famously had a patchy past. Was that a concern at all?

Not at all. The minute he said Anurag would be directing it, I said ‘yes’ immediately. I knew Anurag would push and challenge me, which were things I really wanted. I knew Anurag would take me out of my comfort zone, so it was an immediate ‘yes’.

What is he like as a collaborator on set?

He’s been a revelation to me, because I expected an intense, brooding person sitting in a corner sulking about life but he’s the complete opposite of that. He’s effervescent and cherubic, jumping around, dancing and hugging actors after a good shot. I was like, ‘Who are you and where’s Anurag Kashyap?!’ (Laughs) He completely surprised me.

You obviously loved working with Anurag enough to agree to do another film!
(Laughs) Yes, Anurag’s producing that film. Gulab Jamun’s a script that Aishwarya and I heard a year ago, and it’s being developed since then; it’s a film that we’re both very keen to do. We’re still scheduling though, so aren’t sure when we’re doing it.

You’ve not played a character like Manmarziyaan’s Robbie before.

Yeah. Robbie posed quite a challenge for Anurag and me. He’s a banker from London with roots in Amritsar — his parents live here. He comes back after agreeing to an arranged marriage, and amongst one of the girls he meets is Rumi, which is Taapsee’s character. For no reason that he can explain, he falls in love with her and that’s when he realises that she already has someone in her life, which is the character Vicky Kaushal’s playing. So, you have the usual love triangle that ensues.

Now you have Rumi and Vicky which are these passionate, flamboyant and entertaining characters and in the middle of that, suddenly comes this very subtle, subdued, dignified, quiet, introverted person that’s Robbie. When you have a dynamic like that, it’s very easy to label Robbie as boring — keeping him interesting and engaging was the huge challenge. Rumi’s dilemma has to be of two opposites, but both opposites must be as attractive so that the choice is not obvious. I was paranoid, and Anurag and I discussed it a lot. I worked hard on it and I think we managed to pull it off.

In a recent interview to t2, Anushka Sharma spoke about her role in Sui Dhaaga where she’s playing a very quiet woman amidst a cast of noisy, effervescent characters. She said that the biggest challenge was not getting lost in the noise...

My challenge wasn’t about getting lost in the noise. My fears were largely about holding my own, to not compromise on the ideals and morals of that character. As a performer, you don’t have the usual crutches that you can lean on. It’s all in the eyes, and it’s difficult when you don’t have too many actions and dialogues to support that. That becomes a challenge, but it was a welcome challenge.

What happened with Paltan? There’s a lot of talk about you having walked out of the film.

Yes, I was to do Paltan. It’s a J.P. saab (Dutta) film — he’s like family to me, he launched me in the industry (with Refugee), my introduction to cinema was through him, he’s been a mentor and I was very excited to be a part of the film. There were some personal reasons why I couldn’t end up doing the film, and it was devastating for me because I really wanted to be there for J.P. saab. It was a special film for him because he was making a film after such a long time. I wanted to work with him and will always want to. It was also special because Nidhi, his daughter, was becoming a producer, and for J.P. saab, to have his daughter produce a film was very special. Sadly, I couldn’t be a part of it but I wish him all the best, and am looking forward to watching the film. I’m just happy that he’s back to making films.There are no hard feelings there, and never will be. There cannot be with J.P. saab, he means far too much to me.

Your sister Shweta is making her debut as an author this year. Excited about that?

Yes, very. I’ve read parts of the book. I’ve always known she’s had this talent, it dates back to college when I used to get her to write my English papers for me. So yeah, I’m really happy that she’s finally coming out with it, and excited.

Did Abhishek do the right thing by taking a two-year break? Tell